More details emerge of Apple's eviction of Intel processors from PCs

April 23, 2020 //By Peter Clarke
More details emerge of Apple's eviction of Intel processors from PCs
More details have emerged of the ARM-based processors Apple is developing that are expected to oust Intel from laptop and desktop computers, starting in 2021.

The story came to light last month (see Intel fail foreseen: ARM reportedly wins Mac computer processor design-ins). Now Bloomberg has reported that Apple is working on three processors as developments of its A14 processor that is aimed at the next iPhone.

Apple is looking for a different point in the PPA [performance power area] space so the computer processors will operate at higher clock frequencies to provide more performance than A14 but at greater power consumption. The designs are targeting TSMC's 5nm manufacturing process, Bloomberg said referencing unnamed sources.

The Apple Mac processors will include many CPU cores and also the GPU. It was not revealed whether that would be a licensed core or one designed by Apple. Apple has an ongoing relationship with Imagination (see Apple able to use more Imagination IP under renewed deal).

But Apple also recruited many Imagination engineers as it started its own GPU development initiative in 2016 (see Apple hires group of UK GPU engineers). 2020 would represent about the right time for such a circuit-design work program to bear fruit.

The internal processor-for-PC initiative at Apple has the codename Kalamata and has been running for several years. In 2018, Apple developed a Mac chip based on the iPad Pro's A12X processor for internal testing, Bloomberg said.

The first Mac processors will have eight high-performance ARM architecture cores, codenamed Firestorm, and at least four energy-efficient ARM architecture cores, known internally as Icestorm. Apple is exploring Mac processors with more than 12 cores for further in the future, Bloomberg quoted the sources as saying. This represents an implementation of the Big-Little strategy that has been fostered by ARM since 2011.

The transition to ARM-based cores is likely to start inside a new laptop computer because the first Mac processors won't rival the raw performance Intel can offer for MacBook Pros, iMacs and Mac Pro desktop computers, the report said. In addition, the transition could be slowed by work-at-home restrictions currently in place because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although hardware development is expensive and difficult the software burden of providing OS support and legacy compatibility is also tricky. The Apple Mac processors will have to run macOS. Bloomberg observed that Microsoft failed to migrate its own Windows-based laptop computers away from Intel processors.

Related links and articles:

Intel fail foreseen: ARM reportedly wins Mac computer processor design-ins

Apple able to use more Imagination IP under renewed deal

Apple hires group of UK GPU engineers


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